New Pornographers
  • New Pornographers

Since emerging in 2000 the New Pornographers have been such a model of pop-music consistency that I’ve occasionally taken them for granted. Back in August the group released their sixth album, Brill Bruisers (Matador), but it took me a while to get around to playing it. I’ve been a huge fan since the start, but I remember thinking, “Oh, cool, a new album by them—I’ll have to find some time to listen to that.” I finally dug in last month and felt kind of stupid for depriving myself of the album’s abundant pleasures for a couple of months. Brill Bruisers is as good as anything they’ve released, and it’s certainly the most spunky and colorful they’ve sounded since Twin Cinema in 2005. The new album’s title meaningfully references the storied New York songwriting edifice Brill Building, and New Pornographers songwriters A.C. Newman and Dan Bejar are themselves a kind of mini-Brill Building force. Brill Bruisers is one of New Pornographers’ catchiest albums—with one monster hook after another on almost every song—and for me the band has now trumped all previous accomplishments on that count, which is no mean feat.

On first listen I was struck by the prevalence of retro-sounding synthesizers. The New Pornographers have always incorporated plenty of pop styles of the past, but as someone scarred by 80s pop music I tend to have allergic reactions to certain sounds. After a couple of spins of Brill Bruisers, however, the keyboard lines played by Blaine Thurier and Kathryn Calder not only started to make sense but revealed themselves to be integral parts of many songs: the up-and-down pointillistic notes that lace “Champions of Red Wine,” one of the album’s requisite gems sung by Neko Case; the cascading accents that complement the chugging guitar patterns in Bejar’s “War on the East Coast”; and the opening part (to say nothing of the vocoders) of “Backstairs,” which seems closer to something by Alan Parsons Project than Heaven 17. The group’s patchwork appropriation has never been more seamlessly integrated nor sounded so new, even if it has nothing in common with the bulk of contemporary pop music. But as I wrote above it’s the melodies that keep me riveted. As someone who’s always been less enthralled with Bejar’s tunes, one of my favorites here is his “Born With a Sound,” which features a killer duet with Amber Webber of Lightning Dust that imparts the perfect degree of weariness.

The New Pornographers headline the Riviera on Friday night. Below you can watch the video for “Dancehall Domine,” another highpoint of the album.

YouTube video

Today’s playlist:

Brigitte Fontaine, Areski, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Comme a la Radio (Saravah)
Date Palms, Dusted Sessions (Thrill Jockey)
Grumbling Fur, Glynnaestra (Thrill Jockey)
Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose (Warner Bros.)
Nico, The End (Island)